Saturday, June 13, 2015

Yosemite Trip With Derek: Day 8, Bagging Boundary

Suffer-fest #5: Bagging Boundary

I like lists. I get a great sense of accomplishment when I check something off the list, no matter how silly the items on the list. This predilection partially motivated me to climb all the Colorado 14ers and then all the California 14ers. One of the great benefits of pursuing such lists are you are forced to go new places and do new things. Sure, I could have made my own list to do the same thing, but there is something compelling about climbing the highest.

My next such list is the state high points, though I’ve currently restricted my desires to summits above 10,000 feet with exceptions for especially noteworthy peaks like Mt. Katahdin in Maine and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. It would still be cool to visit every state in the Union, but I don’t necessarily need to go stand in the highest cornfield.

As this is a relatively new list, I haven’t made too much progress as yet. Before this trip, in order of accomplishment, I’ve climbed the highest peaks in California, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, South Dakota, and Arizona. Nevada’s highest peak is Boundary Peak and its trailhead is conveniently located just six miles from the highway we took to Yosemite. There were two barriers to getting this peak, though: having the motivation to climb it on the eighth day of our trip and having the clearance to get to the trailhead.

The first issue was satisfied by having a good partner. Before the trip I knew it was going to be hard to head up this peak instead of just drive home and I talked to Derek about keeping each other motivated. Here Derek carried the load and never once considered skipping it, despite the huge day we just had.

I got up at 5 a.m. and packed the car to give Derek a bit of extra sleep. I then drove us ninety minutes to the trailhead while he snoozed some more. From the highway the peak is 23 roundtrip miles and 6000+ vertical - too much for us - and I counted down the distance for each mile I was able to drive. Once I got under 15 miles I figured Derek was in. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was trivial to drive to the 9000-foot parking at the Queen Mine. I could have driven another mile and 700 vertical feet to the saddle, but I didn’t know it at the time and didn’t want any stress.

We packed for the climb and left the car in perfect weather at 8 a.m. Too perfect, as we had to stop and strip down to shorts and short-sleeves after only a half mile. At the saddle we found a tent and an SUV and I hoped they were up there putting a track through the snow that was so evident from the highway.

We climbed, steeply at times, up to the crest of a broad ridge at around 11,000 feet. Here we got our first look at Boundary Peak. It was impressive. While capped in snow, it looked doable in our running shoes and Microspikes. We had a 1.5-mile gradually descending traverse along our ridge to the base of the main massif. The first 1000 feet of this climb looked ridiculous from afar. It appeared to be entirely sand and pea gravel. It looked like it would make a fast scree-ski descent, but I feared that it was going to be a two-steps-forward-one-step-backwards type of ascent.

Hiking along the ridge we saw a solitary wild horse. It stood majestically looking at us, not moving to approach or to flee, perhaps an outlier from its herd - the only mountain climber. At the saddle at the base of the final 2300-foot climb we caught the SUV couple. They were from Arizona and also returning from a week in Yosemite. They started up right behind us but we quickly gapped them despite moving slowly.

Climbing this slope wasn’t as bad as it had looked. It sucked, sure, but not nearly what I was expecting. It was steep, loose, and arduous and Derek in particularly was feeling the effects of the week. He toughed it out, though, like he’s been doing since he was six years old and climbed his first 14er. There is not a lot of quit in this kid. 

We stopped for a break with 1100 feet to go to swap our caps for pile hats and don wind shells. Above us was steeper terrain of soft snow and talus. We stuck to the rocks as much as possible on the ascent to the final ridge traverse. We figured this last bit would be a nice stroll to the summit, but it seemed to go on a long time. The postholing here was nearly up to my knee and the bright sun reflecting off the snow sapped my energy. A giant boulder blocked easy passage directly on the ridge and we had to skirt it via a slot that forced us out onto the north face for just a bit. Here I found some hard snow and kicked a few footholds. We never had to use the Microspikes and this was the only section where they’d have been an advantage, but it was too short to bother digging them out. After 3.5 hours, I plodded onto the 13,140-foot summit and a few minutes later Derek joined me. We had now climbed every peak over 13,000 feet in Nevada…all two of them.
On the summit with Montgomery Peak in the background
We spent fifteen minutes on top taking in the views, especially of the neighboring, impressive Mt. Montgomery, which was even higher, but just across the border into California. My watch gave us credit for over five miles, and with the drop along the ridge we’d do 4500 feet of climbing on this outing. We each only brought 40 ounces of water and were down to just 10 ounces on the summit. We did split a can of fruit juice on top and that helped a bit.

The descent went nicely. Joining forces with gravity does that. We got back to the saddle in just an hour, seeking out the skiable skri. And that included a five minute stop to talk to our Arizona friends. We stopped at the saddle to put on our caps and pull out our nearly empty water bottles. Derek took the lead along the ridge and hiked so fast that I had to trot every now and again to keep up. Despite being slightly shorter than me, Derek’s legs seem to be a foot longer. He seemed taller too, his posture so erect, while I felt like I was slumping over my meager load.
Derek just fifty feet from the summit.
At one point he ran ahead to get a photo of me with the peak in the background. He only ran for thirty seconds or less, but I saw the future here. He didn’t run like a deer, with their awkward hopping. He ran like a dog, like a Border Collie does, seeming to defy gravity by not weighing anything. He glided and flowed up the sinuous trail, seemingly effortlessly. I plod, shuffle, and scoot on trails, even when I’m “running” them. Derek’s potential is vast and the desire seems to be there. He's young, strong, tough, confident, yet humble, anxious to learn. He’s not nearly ready to be leading me up the big Yosemite faces, though. I still have a role to play there, but my days at the front are numbered. I look forward to following in his footsteps for as long as he’ll have me…

Boundary Peak (on the left) from highway 6 with Montgomery Peak on the right
We ran most of the last three miles. The terrain here is ideal for running - smooth, dirt, mostly gradual, mostly downhill. We mostly ran pretty close to each other, but in a moment Derek could turn up the speed and before I knew it he’d be a hundred feet ahead of me. We did the entire descent in an hour and forty-five minutes and finished together. What a great way to end our adventures - feeling strong and tightly bonded. We still had a 15-hour drive to arrive home, but that would just give me time to jot down my thoughts, as Derek would prove his worth once again by handling the bulk of the driving.

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